I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
― Jorge Luis Borges
DIANE DE BEER
Three very different love stories in three marvellous books are perfect to start off your year.
First dip into what might be the more traditional story, published in 2016, magically titled The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church (4th Estate).
It’s intriguing and the title has significance as the backdrop is Los Alamos where scientists worked on the development of the atomic bomb.
The cover notes also divulge that the author is a lawyer who was born in Los Alamos and lives there now, which explains her interest but also the fact that she’s writing from within a world she has experienced herself.
But the title referring to that era when atomic bombs were still under the radar, also points to a young woman with a burgeoning career who falls in love with her professor two decades her senior and sacrifices her future to nurture his career.
She lives in a time when women are just beginning to question their submission. While at the beginning of her marriage, the stars in her eyes propel her in a direction which she later battles with, it is also the complete acceptance of her husband that she should sacrifice her desires to fulfill his that leads to her disillusionment.
It’s the old, old story for women and what makes it gripping even now is that while we cannot argue that we have come a long way, with the current #MeToo so overwhelming, it really is two steps forward and four back – all the time – still. And while that’s sad, women in the workplace anywhere will not be surprised.
That’s why even this one set almost 80 years ago, still has such relevance. It’s a story of a woman’s awakening, finding herself and a life that she wants to lead as she takes control of her own life, listens to what she really wants and sets out to find it.
Isabel Allende’s In the Midst of Winter (Scribner) veers off into a completely different universe. For those of us who have loved her since the magic realism days of Eva Luna and House of Spirits, her amazing storytelling qualities might sometimes teeter on the brink of soap opera but her writing is of a quality that pulls it back just at the right time.
And this one has a movie quality in which I can almost see the Coen brothers do something quirky as an unexpected friendship blossoms between three people who are unexpectedly thrown at each other by circumstances.
Richard Bowmaster is a lonely university professor in his 60s who unexpectedly slides his car into the car driven by a young undocumented migrant from Guatemala, Evelyn Ortega, in one of the worst snowstorms experienced in Brooklyn in living memory.
That’s a handful already and in the background, moving centre of the story, is Chilean academic, Lucia Maraz, which is where this love story ignites. She has been invited to teach in New York by the professor, but she has much more than her work in mind – yet he doesn’t budge. Then Ortega literally crashes into their lives which take a dramatic turn as they go on a thrilling road trip.
It’s made for the movies and a real page-turner in the best sense of the word. As always, because Allende seems to have so much fun as she stretches the story, she takes you along on this whirlwind of a yarn that has you rooting for this band of adventurers who might not be operating strictly in the law but always with the best intentions and heart.
This is the perfect book if you want to start your year with some escapism while having huge fun along the way.
On a more serious note but no less entertaining, Lionel Shriver will always test your mindset and where you are on issues as she is never simply telling a story. And of the three love stories, her The Standing Chandelier (The Borough Press) is perhaps the most intriguing.
Weston Babansky and Jillian Frisk are best friends which all works out wonderfully for the two of these sometime lovers until Weston falls in love and a triangle comes into play.
It’s that age-old question. Can men and women truly be friends? Just friends? Or is there always something else at play on some level.? For the two friends, their friendship might appear innocent – after all, they have tried the other thing and it didn’t work out.
But for the third party, things are never that simple. It is all these issues and more that Shriver explores so magnificently – that and of course some other modern and moral dilemmas that are swirling about.
That’s always what makes her storytelling so enticing. She lives now, she approaches the world in that way and she dissects and discusses what she experiences around her.
It’s going to be fascinating when she gets to what is happening with #MeToo and how it is expanding in all kinds of directions with women finding a voice to tackle different dilemmas.
With this one, she dips in and out of different issues but at the heart of the novel is the nature of friendship and how it impacts the lives of so many when two people find a meeting of minds that they might think is sacred and non-negotiable.
As always, even in what is best described as a novella (only 122 pages), Shriver digs deep and takes you to places you wouldn’t have imagined to best solve what she has determined is her current theme(s).
Shriver fans will be mesmerised.